Love in Chains: Anadiplosis

Here’s another love poem, this time a short lover’s lament (DIMEV 3269) from London, British Library MS Harley 913.  Scroll down for a text and translation.  MS Harley 913 is a trilingual mid-fourteenth-century anthology of poetry and prose, copied by a Franciscan friar living in Waterford in the south of Ireland.  The poem narrates how love has brought the speaker into sinful thought, then to the absence of reason and reflection (which nonetheless proves futile as a means of escaping love), then into grief and anxiety, and then to despair.  It ends with his resolution to continue even without hope of his lady’s favour until death and the grave.

Yet the poem is simultaneously a self-imposed stylistic exercise.  It is concatenated line by line throughout, with the last word of each line becoming the first word of the next line (the linked words are marked in colours in the text and translation).  As a further constraint, the first eight pairs of repeated words share two rhyme sounds, with the last three pairs (and the last word) sharing two more rhyme sounds.

Isidore of Seville defines anadiplosis as occuring when ‘a following verse begins with the same word that ended the previous verse’ (Etymologies, Book I.36.vii), giving an example from Virgil’s Eclogues.  Bede gives two examples from Scripture (Psalm 121.2–3; Jeremiah 2.13) in his De schematibus et tropis.  In later definitions, this scheme becomes more associated with prose, being the repetition of words between clauses or sentences for rhetorical emphasis.  Here it is the raison d’être of the whole lyric.  The poet makes use of different senses of verbs and nouns, as well as the near-homophones are (‘mercy’, ‘kindness’) and ar (‘until’).

This is a highly artificial exercise but is nonetheless effective, with the repetitions creating a sequence of irresistible steps from love to death which are emphasised by the alternating four- and three-beat units.  This anadiplosis might be compared to the larger scale stanza-linking by concatenation found, for example, in some of the lyrics in MS Harley 2253 and in some of Lawrence Minot’s verse, as well as most famously in Pearl.  Yet it seems to be different here, a particular rhetorical scheme operating at the level of the line rather than that of the stanza, a scheme which inspired the composition of this clever little poem.

Love havith me broght in lithir thoght,
Thoght Ich ab to blinne;
Blinne to thench hit is for noght,
Noght is love of sinne.
Sinne me havith in care i-broght,
Broght in mochil unwinne;
Winne to weld Ich had i-thoght,
Thoght is þat care Ich am inne.
In me is care, how I ssal fare?
Fare Ich wol and funde;
Funde Ich withouten are,
Ar I be broght to grunde.

Love has brought me into wicked thought,
thought I have to give up;
to cease to think it is in vain,
useless is the love of sin.
Sin into grief has brought me,
brought me into much unhappiness;
Joy I had thought to possess,
anxiety is what I am in.
I am in distress, how must I live?
I intend to set out and journey,
strive without favour,
until I am brought to the earth.

Original text from Die Kildare-Gedichte, die ältesten mittelenglischen Denkmäler in anglo-irischer Überlieferung, ed. W. Heuser (Bonn: Hanstein, 1904). I have modernised spelling and punctuation. Modern English translation is my own.

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